Poison those PESTS, not your pets!


Spring’s warmer days awaken our inner gardener, and happily we grab our tools, our compost . . . our gardening-whatever, and head out.  We dig dirt!

While endless spring rains keep many people inside, they don’t at all deter slugs and bugs, moles and voles, or countless other creatures from wreaking havoc on yards and gardens.  

With gardening juices flowing, we clean, weed, prune, and beat back the unwanted from our little patch on the planet.  And then it happens:  THE MOMENT — the heartwrenching realization of the damage done by pests this year.  Off we race to the nursery, hardware or local grocery store to find something — anything — to halt the destruction.  Sadly, many end up causing harm by unknowingly buying products that are extremely hazardous to their pets’ health.

Every spring, VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists sees many “bait-based” poisonings — the most common from dogs ingesting slug baits containing metaldehyde.  Cheap, abundant and well advertised, these baits seriously affect the central nervous system.  Symptoms including tremors, drooling and restlessness often progress to seizures and death if left untreated.  The great news is, this scenario can be avoided altogether by simply using non-toxic alternatives to metaldehyde.  Some alternatives include beer or yeast slug traps, copper bars or crushed eggshells around plants, or iron phosphate pellet products such as “Worry-Free,” “Sluggo” and “Escargot.”  

Other baits that wreak havoc include those used to control mice, gophers and moles.  Historically, the most popular chemicals used to control rodents have been “anticoagulants,” which cause death by internal bleeding.  While there is an antidote for accidental poisoning of a cat or dog, survival depends on factors such as speed of treatment, and no matter how you slice it, it’s a pet parent’s worst nightmare . . . and completely preventable.

Other types of rodent baits on the market have no antidote.  Two of the most popular are bromethalin (for mice and rats) and zinc phosphide (for moles).  Bromethalin affects the brain and spinal cord; ingestion of a substantial quantity can cause tremors, running fits, seizures, and death within a few hours.  Animals ingesting a lesser amount may show signs of weakness and wobbliness that progress to paralysis and coma.  Zinc phosphide, seen in gopher and mole baits, turns to phosphine gas when it hits the hydrochloric acid of an animal’s stomach.  Dogs will vomit, stagger, and have difficulty breathing and convulsions.  There is no antidote for either bromethalin or zinc phosphide, both are very rapidly absorbed, and once severe clinical signs are seen, it is often too late for treatment.

Nip bait-based poisonings in the bud

Step 1:  Educate yourself on the type of “vermin” you aim to eliminate. 

Step 2:  Clean up the garden and inside and outside your home to eliminate food and water sources and all potential hiding places.  Use non-toxic alternatives wherever and whenever possible. 

Step 3:  If you determine your situation requires bait, educate yourself on all chemicals involved and always use a tamper-proof bait station.  For best possible results use a professional who is accustomed to treating homes with pets and children, and who is knowledgeable about proper baiting techniques, equipment and products.  


Now that the ides of March are past and the tides of horticultural hormones are upon us, pet-owning gardeners should take stock of the items they’ll be toting around and read labels closely.  In fervor to make our outdoor surroundings more beautiful, enjoyable, and even more tasty, we should first ensure we haven’t made them hazardous to our pets’ health — undoubtedly they’ll be reveling in being outside, right along with us. 

So, mollucides, pesticides, fungicides, algaecides (basically all the cousins of the ‘cide family) should be closely watched, kept safely sealed, and applied with knowledge.  Better still, use organic alternatives.  As Kermit would say, “It ain’t easy being green.”   

As we tote the items that help us keep gardens and plants free of fungus and moss, slugs and snails, grubs and gophers, mice and lice, and __________ (write in your own personal "pest non grata"), it’s good time to look over our shoulder to see if a welcome creature is following us.  While it is important to keep the slugs out of the garden, the moles out of the yard, and the mice out of the house, it is even more important to keep the pet out of the veterinary hospital.